We're a little over a week into September and the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL)has been released - love it or hate it, it keeps getting released earlier and earlier. Not to mention people all over the country are saying that it's starting to feel like fall. Just an update here in the good old MIA, it's still humid, there's been a lot of rain recently, and we're still in the heart of hurricane season. Even as I write this Hurricane Florence is heading towards the east coast and is looking to be a threat to make landfall. Yes, these are the end days of summer here in Miami. Not complaining just laying the land for those not from here. Yesterday at the store the stone fruits are no longer readily available and apples and pears are now starting to surface. We may not have much of a change in seasons here in Miami but I definitely pay attention to the fruit as it makes it's way here (from other parts of the country) and try to eat as much in season as possible.
September is National Whole Grains Month. While whole grains are to be celebrated throughout the whole year, September is a time to raise awareness of not only the importance of whole grains but quite possibly a chance for you to try a new whole grain, since we do get stuck in our ways, hello creatures of habit, and start eating the same thing over and over.
Eating whole grains is linked with numerous health benefits, including lower cholesterol, body fat, and healthier blood sugar management, as well as lower risks of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, many cancers, and death from all causes. If you're looking for the studies, there's a quite a few. Here's a round-up of all the research.
Many times as I'm giving the benefits of whole grains I highlight fiber. I think it's so important and often times not talked about enough. If you've been around the blog for awhile now you know I call it the "fiber factor". Here are the known benefits:
-Regularity. Yes, this is true. Not only does it help normalize bowel movements, but it also increases the weight and size of our stools. People will often ask then is there such thing as having too much fiber? Not really – I mean, you just have to increase your water intake due to the increased fiber intake, otherwise you can get gas and bloating. I always say, the more fiber the better (and increase your consumption gradually)!
-Lowers cholesterol levels: lowers LDL, aka the lousy cholesterol, as well as other heart health benefits of lowering blood pressure and inflammation.
-Improve blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Fiber is the part of the plant that you don’t absorb. So naturally if you’re not absorbing it, it helps slow down the absorption of the carbohydrates, ultimately leading to an improvement in blood sugar control. So, fiber is a dual benefit in those with diabetes, improved blood sugar control and improved heart health (people with diabetes are twice as likely to have a cardiac event). I call that a winner if you ask me.
-Aids in achieving a healthy weight: high-fiber foods tend to be more filling than low-fiber foods. Odds are you’ll eat less and stay satisfied longer. Also, high-fiber foods are less energy dense – fewer calories for the same amount of food – and can take longer to eat.
-Reduce the risk for some cancers.
So yes, fiber goes beyond just regularity. Dub it the fiber factor – don’t worry about how much you need, just eat more whole grains. You’ll notice the benefits. Trust me.
This past week I gave a presentation to a group of police officers. And while I normally suggest changing one thing at a time and continuing to make improvements/changes, when it comes to whole grains, I'd prefer for people to eat more whole grains than not. But the truth is you really do need to meet people where they are at and I do understand this. In the presentation I was discussing rice and all its forms - brown rice, wild rice, black rice - many of the police officers didn't even realize black rice was a thing!
So I'm not saying to jump from white rice to black rice, unless you really want to try it and do fall deeply in love with it, but rather try making brown rice and then move to trying the black rice. You move in stages with these changes. I wouldn't tell someone to go from instant oats to steel-cut oats because it's almost too much of a change. Work your way up. And if brown rice still isn't your thing, try a completely different whole grain - amaranth, barley, farro, freekeh, quinoa, spelt, teff - you see? There's bound to be some grains that you haven't tried before (or heard of before) and always keep in mind to simply rotate the grains you are eating. We really do start eating some of the same things over and over. Bored much? There's no reason to be when you can eat different whole grains as well as preparing them in different methods too.
September is National Yoga Awareness Month - An awareness campaign to educate about the health benefits of yoga as well as inspire a healthy lifestyle - or as I like to call it, why not give yoga a try month? I've heard many times from people that the reason they don't want to try yoga is because they're not flexible or their mind races too much they wouldn't be able to sit still. Um, hate to break it to you, but ALL reasons why you should try yoga. I'm not saying to do something you don't like, hear me out. But I'll be the 1st to tell you that it wasn't a complete love affair for me the 1st time I tried yoga. Rather it was a chance to get away from work for an hour to help try to clear my mind so then I could go back to work for another 3-4 hours. Yeah, that was my first exposure to yoga. And it continued to be my exposure for the next few years. Little did I know yoga was not just about the asanas (poses) and there was so much more to it. I wrote a whole post a few years back if you want to give it a read here. My yoga teacher, Marianne Wells, also gives a really great explanation of what yoga really is all about. Read about it here, since she's a little more eloquent than I. And if you want a quick re-cap of what yoga means/what it's all about/why you should give it a try this month, here you go:
Just Breathe - Yoga is the union of the breath with the movement of the poses. As you breathe you go further into the poses (if you aren't able to breathe easily then that's the limit for you in that pose...for now anyways). But breath is really the heart of yoga. Every day at work throughout the day I take time to sit and just breathe. Some days it's two minutes and some days it's 10 minutes. Breathing helps me reset and reconnect. When my mind is focused on all that lies before me for the rest of the day, I focus on nothing else but just breathing. A morning re-set. Mid-day recharge. Or evening unwind. "Before you can breathe to learn, you must learn to breathe."
Move - 6 years ago I broke my foot. I was literally stopped in my tracks and felt like I couldn't MOVE. Little did I know all that I had in store to learn during the following 6 months. Injuries teach you a lot. I now can appreciate being able to move daily. I've slowed down and am more mindful with each movement I do make. And I definitely remind everyone around me never to run in the rain in flip flops (you won't get there ANY faster!) "It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop." ~Confucius~
Meditation - Meditation sharpens our concentration, our power of thought, and allows personal transformation. I like to use the quote that Dan Harris says about meditation when I describe it, "It's like a bicep curl for the brain." Meditation isn't easy for me. My mind is always wandering. I simply acknowledge that my mind has wandered and begin again. It's literally a bicep curl - strengthening each and every time I meditate. Some days are easier than others. The key for me has been consistency.
Food - I think this goes without saying, but food does play an integral part of yoga and that might not be the 1st thought that comes to mind. I always teach variety, balance, and moderation when it comes to food. But within yoga there's an Ayurvedic proverb that really takes it a step further, "When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need." I'm not here to talk about diseases outside of our control, but the truth remains that food can be a form of medicine. And yes, food can be so much more (there are more social components not being discussed today). But getting back to the basics of eating whole, less processed foods truly can help us to stay healthy and happy.
Rest/Sleep - "Sleep is the most underrated health habit." Cheating your body out of the R&R it needs can make you more prone to illness, stress, traffic accidents, and weight gain. My Garmin watch monitors my sleep patterns. When I include yoga and meditation, my sleep improves. It's as easy as that (and the reports prove it too). Don't believe me? Give it a chance.
Love - I always tell my nephews that "I love them to the moon and back, to infinity and beyond, forever and ever!" When they were younger they thought it was just a funny quote. But as they are getting older they understand how deep my love for them is. Yoga is a way to learn things on the mat and then to translate them off the mat. One key teaching that I have learned along the way is how to love myself. It's not that I didn't know how before yoga, but being on the mat puts things in perspective - each and every day on the mat is different and so too is life - I love myself whatever comes my way.
Really Real Yoga - My yoga teacher uses this mantra and recites it often. It helps you understand what Really Real Yoga is and incorporate it into your daily life.
"If my heart could do my thinking, and my head could truly feel, then I would know what is really real."
Yoga has forever changed my life (and continues to change me.) I often used to think that yoga came into my life at just the right moment. I didn’t choose yoga, yoga chose me. I found a renewed faith in myself. I began to settle into myself and as I began to settle I began to see that peace is the way. Maybe this short post has inspired you to try yoga or maybe it's simply because it's National Yoga Month. Whatever the case, I encourage you to find yoga (or whatever exercise it may be that yoga is for me).
If you are looking for a yoga class, check out the listing for a class near you here. All classes are free to the community. And later this month we are partnering with the Miami Dolphins to host a FREE yoga class in their training facility. Register here for the class and get a free yoga mat!
So there you have it, a few health celebrations happening in the month of September. I hope you try a new whole grain this month and maybe even sign-up for a yoga class. You never know until you try! Here's wishing hurricane season flies by, the days get cooler as fall approaches, and instead of PSL maybe there's a new drink in town, how's a Cardamom Spice Latte sound?